CNN report accuses Israel of deliberately killing journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh – but who are the experts whose commentary they are peddling?

By Rolene Marks

Mark Twain once said that a lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can put its boots on. When it comes to the mainstream media’s reporting of the now decades long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, this description fits as snug as a pair of bespoke boots.

There are many who feel that perhaps we are overreacting or fracking for offense in every broadcast and headline; but the way that the narrative around this conflict is framed has a direct impact not just on how people view Israel; but if the Jewish state is continuously painted in a negative, brutal light, it impacts on Jewish communities around the world who bear the brunt of people’s ill-informed anger. I believe in this direct correlation so strongly that I am basing my doctoral dissertation on it.

The latest iteration is news network, CNN. Several days ago, the channel broadcasted an insert that featured “experts’ who stated that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) deliberately targeted and killed Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. The facts did not matter, only their opinions.

As soon as this regrettable incident took place, the IDF requested a joint investigation with the Palestinians who summarily refused, a stance they still hold. They have also refused to cooperate with possible US investigators. IDF officials have said that it is possible the fatal bullet could have been fired from one of the soldiers but it is difficult to tell without a ballistics report after examination of the bullet. The Palestinians are still refusing to hand over the bullet and the coroner who conducted the autopsy on Abu Akleh, a Palestinian himself, said that his findings were inconclusive. This is why a joint investigation is needed.

Reprehensible Reporting. Some of CNN’s  reportage on the death of Shireen Abu Akleh  was nothing less than an anti-Israel ‘hit job’ taking the Palestinian narrative of a complicated conflict and falsely presenting it as “evidence” of Israel’s culpability.(Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Would Israel deliberately target a journalist? The other question we need to ask is what possibly does Israel, who enjoys a free and open press, unlike the Palestinians, have to gain by murdering a journalist bearing first hand witness to this conflict. Israel has an open, democratic press and is committed to ensuring that journalists can work freely and unimpeded. War correspondents who cover conflict zones understand the risks.

CNN however, had different ideas.

I remember the day this event took place very clearly. News alerts coming in spoke of “a heavy exchange of fire between Palestinians and Israeli Security Forces engaged in counterterror operations in Jenin”. Jenin in the West bank, is a hotbed of incitement and terror activity. Terrorists who have killed Israelis in the recent wave of terror have come from Jenin. The news then broke that a journalist had been fatally shot.

City of Terror. Jenin, where Abu Akleh was struck by a fatal bullet has been for decades a hotbed of violent terrorist activity as reflected in this photo of terrorists displaying in public their weapons in April 2002. (AFP)

No sooner had this happened, then footage started to circulate.

The footage clearly shows Palestinians wearing bullet-proof vests and firing automatic weapons, including one gunman who leans around a corner and indiscriminately shoots, at which point bystanders can be heard saying, “they’ve hit one, they’ve hit a soldier, he’s laying on the ground.” The IDF confirmed that no Israeli soldiers were hit or injured in the melee.

Judge for yourself:

CNN trotted out their “expert” eye witness who claimed that there “had been no conflict, we were standing around, joking with journalists”.

The next “expert” up to bat was “explosive weapons expert” and “security consultant and British army veteran”, Chris Cobb-Smith. Cobb-Smith based his findings on images provided by CNN that showed strike or bullet strafe marks on the nearby trees. Cobb-Smith is reportedly able to ascertain that Abu Akleh was not killed by a “random shot” but was “targeted.”

Now if I was asking Cobb-Smith questions, and I am not a lawyer, I would ask him:

 a) was he or has he been in a position to examine the fatal bullet because  it is  still in Palestinian custody and has yet to be handed over for ballistics testing as per the IDF request

b) could bullet strafings or marks on the trees not be assigned to either side given that he hasn’t examined the fatal bullet or any of those fired and the Palestinian coroner who conducted the autopsy, has said it is impossible to draw conclusive findings who was responsible.

Chris Cobb-Smith’s credentials are dubious to say the least. Some of his highly questionable activities include:

Contributing to an Amnesty International report alleging that the IDF had used white phosphorous during Operation Cast Led in 2009. Amnesty International make no secret of their view of Israel and the IDF.

Up to his old Tricks. The security consultant“expert” Chris Cobb-Smith who provided CNN with his findings alleging Abu Akleh was “targeted” by Israeli forces  was the same expert who misled in a report to Amnesty International  falsely alleging that the IDF had used white phosphorous during Operation Cast Led in 2009. Amnesty International makes no secret of their distaste of Israel and the IDF.

He met with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in 2009, in June 2015, and in 2018 and participated in a workshop held by PCHR at the Institute for International Criminal Investigations on “the procedures of criminal investigation into international crimes”. The PCHR is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which has been designated a  terrorist organization by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel.

I would also ask Cobb-Smith how he could give expert opinion when he has already been on record supporting an agenda against the IDF for Amnesty International who have a clear agenda against the State of Israel.

Smell a rat?

LTG Aviv Kohavi Adresses Shireen Abu Akleh Investigation

CNN also featured “former parliamentarian and member of the Palestinian Fatah Party in Jenin,” Jamal Huwail, who also backed claims that Israel deliberately targeted Abu Akleh and other journalists.

Missing from his “expert testimony” was the fact that he lauded the terrorist who murdered four people in a car ramming and knife attack in Beersheba on March 22 as a “lone lion” who had “sounded the alarm of this criminal Zionist occupation.” The terrorist was an ISIS sympathizer.

Targeting Truth. How far has journalism sunk when CNN features unrefuted “experts’ who state that the IDF deliberately targeted and killed Al Jazeera journalist Abu Akleh?

The Palestinian Authority have said they conducted their own investigation and concluded the IDF deliberately targeted Abu Akleh. These findings were released two days after the CNN expose. Anyone else “shook”, as the kids say?

Israel is a democracy and holds the importance of a free press as sacrosanct.  News networks around the world need to be held accountable for their role in spreading disinformation that has dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences. This is possible and we can all play a role in it. It is time for the truth to strap on its best pair of boots and go walking. And this needs to happen sooner rather than later.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).